As we enter the second lockdown of the year many of us find ourselves stuck at home (again). While some are embracing the change, some of us are feeling a little frazzled and may be struggling with our mental health.
Here are six simple changes we can make to help us improve our mental health during lockdown.
1. Manage your news sources carefully. Recognise that there is a difference between being immersed and being informed. You don’t have to be plugged into your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook feed 24/7. Give yourself permission to take breaks and aim for a balanced media diet. Don’t just focus on the really bad news, gravitate towards the good news also.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of routine. The pandemic has left many people feeling adrift. Our daily routines, that were essential to us before the COVID-19 crisis have disappeared and been replaced by uncertainty and a lack of structure that can contribute to stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. Sticking to a routine helps to:
- Create structure – A daily routine often begins with the alarm clock ringing to start our day, and the routines follow from there with showering, brushing our teeth, dressing and grabbing coffee on the school run or on the way to the (home) office.
- Give us a sense of accomplishment – Routines typically have a beginning and an end, and we plan our day and time around being able to prioritise them and accomplish the most important tasks of the day for ourselves and our families
- Let us know how we are doing – Even small routines like showering, brushing our teeth, and dressing are important parts of our day. Since the pandemic, many of us have taken a more liberal approach to those daily routines, such as working from home in ‘comfy clothes’ that were once reserved for weekends. Although this change is subtle, it can have a big impact, making you feel sluggish or lazy.
- Let people around us know how we are doing – Routines also are indications to people around us of how we are doing. Before the pandemic, if you didn’t show up for work people would worry, or if you didn’t come out of your house for weeks friends would look in on you or be concerned about your well-being. With no routine, there are a lot of unknowns that can cause concern or anxiety.
3. Build activities that give you a sense of pleasure, achievement and/or comfort into your daily routine. This could be a new hobby or an activity that helps you to relax. Or maybe watching a great film, reading a book, gaming or a bit of pampering, learning a new skill, doing something creative or getting your chores done. Personally, I like a spot of baking – it not only gives me a focus but helps me feel calmer. Bear in mind that, while it can be tempting to use ‘pleasurable quick fixes’ – such as overuse of alcohol, drugs or gambling – to cope with pain, stress, anxiety and depression, these are not viable long-term choices for maintaining good mental health.
4. Try not to worry about things that are outside of your control. When things are beyond our control, its essential to focus on what we can control no matter how small that may be – or as my clients will have heard me say many many times … control your controllables! One of the things that causes an increase in anxiety is when we worry about things that are out of our control. For example, worrying whether or not others are obeying Covid-19 restrictions. Don’t get caught up with what others are doing. Instead, try to focus on what is best for you and how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
5. Stay connected. Lack of physical contact with friends and colleagues has a tendency to leave people feeling very isolated, which can increase feelings of anxiety. Consider different ways to stay in touch – a phone call, video call, text message, the ‘old fashioned’ letter. Hearing a friendly, familiar voice or reading a message from people we care about helps us to feel connected. This is so important for our mental health and especially for people living alone who may be feeling lonely, isolated and afraid about the current situation.
6. Finally, exercise! Engaging in regular exercise can help curb feelings of anxiety and depression. When you exercise your brain releases serotonin, which positively impacts your mood and helps you to feel better. It can also help to improve your appetite and sleep cycle. If you’re not self-isolating, try to get outside at least once a day. Go for a walk and get some fresh air. If you are self-isolating, walk around your garden, up and down your driveway or onto your balcony and embrace fresh air.
You don’t have to suffer in silence if you’re struggling with your mental health, reach out to a professional or contact one of the groups listed below:
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) A male suicide prevention charity offering help, advice and information. Tel: 0808 802 5858 (17.00 – 00.00. 365 days a year)Web: www.thecalmzone.net
Childline Childline is on hand to help anyone under 19 in the UK. Call 0800 1111 or contact them online. It’s free to use and completely confidential. Tel: 0800 1111 Web: www.childline.org.uk
MIND Provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Tel: 0300 123 3393 (09.00 to 18.00. Monday to Friday, except bank holidays) Web: www.mind.org.uk
PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide) Provides information for parents of suicidal children and supports those bereaved by suicide. Tel: 0870 170 4000 (helpline available Monday to Friday 09.00 to 22.00, Weekends 14.00 to 22.00, Bank Holidays 14.00 to 22.00) Web: www.papyrus-uk.org
Samaritans Providing 24-hour phone support, Samaritans is a national charity aiming to reduce emotional distress. Tel: 116 123 (24 hours, 365 days a year) Web: www.samaritans.org
Siobhan Graham – Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist – www.SiobhanGraham.com